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Students burn while teachers fiddle

Sun umbrellas are seen on the first day

Sun umbrellas are seen on the first day of summer at Seattle's Alki Beach Park. (June 21, 2011) Credit: AP

Parents expect teachers to protect the best interests of their students. When Jesse Michener of Tacoma, Wash. got home from work Tuesday afternoon, the sight of her two lobster-colored daughters signaled that teacher vigilance can’t be taken for granted.

Zoe, 9, and Violet, 11, were burned so severely that their mom chose to take them to the hospital. They weren’t kept overnight, but the pain did keep them out of school the next day.

How’d this happen? Their school had field day, which kept them out in the sun for a good five hours. A state law bars teachers from applying sunscreen to children or administering any other substances considered over-the-counter medications by the Food and Drug Administration. A child can apply the skin-saving lotion personally — but not without a doctor’s note.

Zoe has a documented form of albinism, and the school has a record of it, including a 504 plan with specifications for her sensitive skin. Violet's burns have blistered, including the ones on her face. No one contacted Jesse about her daughters' worsening conditions. What were these administrators thinking?

I understand many parents don't want teachers handing out Tylenol or rubbing their hands all over the kids, but there must be a better solution. Faculty and staff commented to the girls about the severity of their burns, yet watched them crisp up like bacon. But just because sunscreen wasn’t an option doesn’t mean there was nothing that could be done.

Might a hat have helped? Those aren't allowed at school, even on field day.

Even better: Take the poor girls inside, or at least to a shaded area. No one can stay in the bright sun for five hours completely unprotected. That's where melanoma comes from.

Michener has been blogging about the situation, and many comments blame her for not applying sunscreen to the children before they left home. The FDA, however, suggests that sunscreen be reapplied every two hours to be effective, so anything she had done would have been void by noon.

The girls will recover in time, but that might not be the case for the next fair-skinned child who gets roasted because of a bizarre law that hurts kids more than it helps.